You’ll Never Sing this Hymn the Same Way Again

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The Eucharistic prayer is recited after the angelic hymn of praise known as the Sanctus. You know it: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts . . . This may seem like a repetitive hymn, and to those that hear it quite frequently that may be the case. However, its placement before the canon is not accidental. It is actually a combination of two biblical passages, one from the Old Testament and another from the New Testament. The first verse that makes up the Sanctus is Isaiah 6:3 which says, “And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (NRSV). The second part consists of Mark 11:9 which reads, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (NRSV).

Sometimes we sing or say this at Mass, but we don’t understand the significance.

The role that the Sanctus plays in relation to the Eucharistic prayer cannot be minimized or understated. It lays the foundation for the supernatural events that are about to take place within our midst. The people take the place of those on the first Palm Sunday who ushered our Lord into Jerusalem with palm leaves and praise as he was riding on a donkey. We see what Isaiah say and sing the angelic hymn of praise to the Lord who is sitting on the throne (Is. 6:1).

We lift up our hearts and voices to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords in an unending hymn of praise that has been sung since the beginning of time. As the angels physically worshipped the Lord in heaven, and as the Israelites ushered the divine Davidic king into Jerusalem, at the mass we welcome him physically and supernaturally in the words of consecration that comes through the Eucharistic prayer.

The Sanctus gives thanks for the great mysteries that are about to happen in the consecration. When we say the Sanctus we join with what St. Cyril of Jerusalem calls “the heavenly militia.” This heavenly militia are the Seraphim previously mentioned in Isaiah chapter 6. By singing this great hymn of the Sanctus we are uniting our praise and worship with that of the angels whom were created to praise in Heaven. When this happens we what the Angels see in the liturgy. As previously stated, the Sanctus, is made up of parts of Isaiah 6 and the Palm Sunday accounts in Mark and Matthew. However, the end of sacred scripture, the book of Revelation, assists us in pulling this most significant moment in the Mass together.

In Revelation chapter 4 we see a vision of heavenly worshipped as witnessed by St. John. In Revelation 4:8 we see a very familiar hymn to the thrice holy God as sung in the Sanctus in Mass, and Isaiah 6. What is even more telling is Revelation 4:11 which states, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (NRSV).

This is the song of the twenty-four elders who prostrate themselves before the throne of God in heavenly worship. As we participate in this section of the Mass we are being transported to the throne room of God. St. John saw this and said he was unworthy, the twenty-four elders in Revelation bowed down, and the Seraphim hid their faces with their wings. It is at this point in the Mass where we bow in praise and adoration before the heavenly altar. This is why the Sanctus is so amazing and is more important than what many think.

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